This Is A LEARNING Class

Numerous times throughout my teaching career, I have had students ask me something along the lines of… “Why are we talking about science/English/social studies stuff in here? This is MUSIC class.” I almost always respond, “No, this is a LEARNING class. Besides, it’s all connected anyway, right?”

Why anyone decided that it would be best to teach kids to learn subjects in isolation is beyond me. When my oldest daughter was a freshman in high school, her freshman history teacher told me at parent/teacher conferences that he was amazed at how well my daughter was able to make connections. He explained that, when they discussed a certain topic in class, she was able to quickly draw an example from a seemingly unrelated event and make comparisons. He said that the majority of freshmen in his classes were nowhere near to having that ability.

This is the same child that struggled miserably on standardized tests, yet still did very well in school. Would you be surprised, however, to learn that she is very gifted in music and has been surrounded by music and  musicians her entire life? When she was in Kindergarten, she came home singing the Queen of the Night’s Aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  She then explained the entire plot to me, from her 5 year old perspective and then told me how much it was like a story she had read about people falling in love. What??? And she was actually spot on.

Okay, so this post didn’t start out to be a synopsis of how brilliant my child is. She is brilliant, but that’s another story. (ahem, proud mom)

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she is able to make connections so easily. She was introduced to the piano literally days after birth. As a toddler, she sang along with the voice students who used to come to our home on Saturday mornings. We played every type of music for her- classical, pop, jazz, country, rock. She began dancing at the age of 3. To say that music was a huge part of her life would be a gigantic understatement. We talked all the time about music – what the music was about, where it came from, etc. I could cite research about how music helps brains to for connections, but that’s really not where I’m going with this.

Back to the classroom examples: in my classes, if we learn a new song, we learn about the song’s origins. Where did it come from? What language is this? How do we sing it in this language? Why was it written? What is the subject? If it’s about butterflies, let’s talk about the life cycle of butterflies. Can we find someone to Skype with us about this song? Let’s write our OWN song about butterflies. What should that sound like? Through the music, we can see that LEARNING isn’t reserved for those topics listed in the syllabus or title of the class.

In my classroom, I have the luxury of no state testing for which to prepare my students. We don’t have to practice for tests. We get to spend more time learning about our world and how connected we really are. When you give children the tools to help them see connections for the first time, they get better and better in making connections on their own. They realize we are not the only ones on this planet– and though we have differences, we also have a lot in common with other people around the world. Our music might be different-sounding than the music in Ghana or Tibet or Indonesia or Iceland… but it’s still music. It is still created by people about themselves and their surroundings.

My job is to teach children to LEARN. The fact that I do that job in a music classroom is secondary to that at all times. And yes… I am lucky that I have the opportunity to use music as the tool to make those connections.

6 thoughts on “This Is A LEARNING Class

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michelle Baldwin, Lindsay Morelli. Lindsay Morelli said: Great post! RT @michellek107: Learning with music and making connections- new blog post: #musedchat […]

  2. Your sentence “My job is to teach children how to LEARN” should be printed on t-shirts and sold at conferences! While we may use use the passion we have for content areas, we should never forget the first goal – learning itself.

    Kudos on a great post.

  3. Thanks, Christine. Hmmmm… maybe I’ll make one of those t-shirts myself. 😉

    I think you’re exactly right, and maybe that’s one thing with teachers- you have to love learning yourself in order to make that a priority for your students.

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  4. Agreed on the T-shirt thing. That is a great line… and one we should always keep in mind. If we all remembered that we need to help students make connections more than spit out facts, our children would be much better learners!

  5. […] I have the luxury of helping students to make connections across the curriculum every day. In a recent blog post of my own, I wrote about the questions I often get from students in my classes: “Why are we learning about […]

  6. Mary Linda Krikorian

    Michelle, As an Elementary Music Teacher, it thrills me to no end when I reach those children sitting off to the side, seemingly detached from the class…as I inquire about any prior knowledge they may have of Beethoven or the Beatles! Discussion often turns to the countries they were from and the history that surrounded these musicians. It’s a reflection of their classroom teachers and of their family members very often. I llike to let them know just how much I learn from their knowledge as well.

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